Home Business of Education Despite Government Initiatives, US Colleges Not the Only Ones Facing Funding Challenges

Despite Government Initiatives, US Colleges Not the Only Ones Facing Funding Challenges


In March 2000, the heads of state of the European Union (EU) nations set an ambitious goal for themselves: to make the EU “’the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world, capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion’” by 2010.  Known as the Lisbon Agenda, this program aimed to revitalize the nations of the EU that had collectively experienced economic stagnation in the years preceding the agreement.  Just as President Obama has identified education in general and college graduation rates in particular (stating that “by 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world”) as a vehicle for driving economic growth, the Lisbon Agenda put emphasis on the same.

A 2006 report from the Commission of the European Communities titled “Delivering on the Modernisation Agenda for Universities: Education, Research, and Innovation,” noted that the “modernization of Europe’s universities, involving their interlinked roles of education, research and innovation” is a “core condition” for the success of the Lisbon Agenda.  In that same year, the Spring European Council agreed upon the establishment of the European Institute of Innovation & Technology (EIT) which would “contribute to improving Europe’s capacity for scientific education, research and innovation, while providing an innovative model to inspire and drive change in existing universities, in particular by encouraging multi-disciplinarity and developing the strong partnerships with business that will ensure its relevance.”  Additionally, the Commission called on member nations to create national systems that allowed for geographic mobility of degrees between various EU member states, greater autonomy with strengthened accountability for universities, incentives for partnerships between universities and the business community, and an increased “employability” of graduates. 

To this end, EU member nations set forth their own individual agendas geared to meet the goals of the Lisbon Agenda, although few developed comprehensive national strategies in a timely manner.  In 2005, for example, Ireland introduced its “National Reform Programme” which called on the government to double R&D investments, increase participation in higher education by currently underrepresented groups, and decrease the number of students who prematurely leave their educations.  Spain committed significant funding to “growth and employment priorities” including building up access to higher education as a means to fulfilling the goals associated with the Lisbon Agenda.  In France, the government used the Lisbon Agenda as justification for educational reforms that increased spending on science and research and development by 3 percent.  After joining the EU in 2004, Slovenia attempted to catch up with its colleagues in regards to the Lisbon Agenda.  By June 2005, the government of Slovenia published its “Development Strategy” which included some “interventions in the field of higher education and research.” 

Today, more than 11 years since the signing of the Lisbon Agenda, it is clear that these efforts were not enough.  Many heads of state of EU nations have admitted the failure of the Lisbon Agenda.  In the summer of 2009, Swedish Prime Minister Frederik Reinfeldt wrote in an article published in the Swedish daily paper, Dagens Nyheter, that “even if progress has been made it must be said that the Lisbon Agenda, with only a year remaining before it is to be evaluated, has been a failure.”  Many decry the nonbinding nature of the Lisbon Agenda as one of its greatest failures.  Despite its shortcomings, many EU heads of state have called for the program to be re-launched.  Spanish Prime Minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, has encouraged member states to analyze and understand the failures of the Lisbon Agenda when moving forward with another ten-year program with similar goals.

Recent news stories from around EU member nations, however, leave many questioning how much attention heads of state will give to Prime Minister Zapatero’s advice.  Nearly every EU nation is facing a financial crisis similar to that of the United States and like their counterparts in the US, publicly funded European universities are suffering.  In Latvia, for example, significant cuts to the nation’s education budgets have left many students uncertain about their academic futures.  Each of the nation’s 34 universities is facing deep budget cuts with one estimate noting a “threatened 50 percent cutback to the planned higher education budget…”  Universities in Italy, Ireland, Iceland, Estonia, Romania, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Serbia, and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia are also experiencing significant higher education budget cuts. Germany is a notable exception.  Most German universities are fully state-funded and require little to no tuition for attendance and the federal government continues to make significant investments in German higher education.

While the Germans continue to make significant investments in their higher education system, other EU member states are struggling with how to actualize the recommendations of the Lisbon Agenda.  As early as 2005, many were already realizing that the Lisbon Agenda was doomed.  European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso of Portugal told a gathering in Brussels in early 2005 that “’The overall Lisbon goals were right, but the implementation was poor.  The lesson from the last five years is that we must refocus this agenda to deliver results.’”  Since its expiration in 2010, many have called for the revitalization of the agreement, either in its original form or in a somewhat altered form.  In the face of the “Great Recession” of 2009, very few European economies were left unscathed leading many to reiterate the importance of the ideals of the Lisbon Agenda.  As a result, the Europe 2020 Strategy has been put forth as the “new and improved” Lisbon Agenda.  With so many heads of state acknowledging the importance of education and innovation as a driver of economic development and experiencing the failures of the Lisbon Agenda, it will be interesting to see what alterations are made to the new Europe 2020 Strategy and how that program will impact the higher education systems and ultimately the economies of the EU member states.  The European higher education model is not significantly different than the U.S. higher education model.  Given the significant cuts to higher education support that we’ve seen in states like California and the resulting increases in tuition costs to students, a similar outcome of limiting access to higher education is likely at a time when neither states (U.S.) nor countries (Europe) can afford to decrease the number of their college graduates.

To see headlines regarding the financial state of international higher education, see the “International” section of the “Impact of the Economy on Higher Education” portion of my blog. 

Wally Boston Dr. Wallace E. Boston was appointed President and Chief Executive Officer of American Public University System (APUS) and its parent company, American Public Education, Inc. (APEI) in July 2004. He joined APUS as its Executive Vice President in 2002. In September 2019, Dr. Boston retired as CEO of APEI and retired as APUS President in August 2020. Dr. Boston guided APUS through its successful initial accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association in 2006 and ten-year reaccreditation in 2011. In November 2007, he led APEI to an initial public offering on the NASDAQ Exchange. For four years from 2009 through 2012, APEI was ranked in Forbes' Top 10 list of America's Best Small Public Companies. During his tenure as president, APUS grew to over 85,000 students, 200 degree and certificate programs, and approximately 100,000 alumni. While serving as APEI CEO and APUS President, Dr. Boston was a board member of APEI, APUS, Hondros College of Nursing, and Fidelis, Inc. Dr. Boston was appointed to the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity by the U.S. Secretary of Education in 2019. He also serves as a member of the Board of Advisors of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA), as a Trustee of The American College of Financial Services, as a member of the board of Our Community Salutes - USA, and as a member and chair of the board of New Horizons Worldwide. He has authored and co-authored papers on the topic of online post-secondary student retention, and is a frequent speaker on the impact of technology on higher education. Dr. Boston is a past Treasurer of the Board of Trustees of the McDonogh School, a private K-12 school in Baltimore. In his career prior to APEI and APUS, Dr. Boston served as either CFO, COO, or CEO of Meridian Healthcare, Manor Healthcare, Neighborcare Pharmacies, and Sun Healthcare Group. Dr. Boston is a Certified Public Accountant, Certified Management Accountant, and Chartered Global Management Accountant. He earned an A.B. degree in History from Duke University, an MBA in Marketing and Accounting from Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business Administration, and a Doctorate in Higher Education Management from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. In 2008, the Board of Trustees of APUS awarded him a Doctorate in Business Administration, honoris causa, and, in April 2017, also bestowed him with the title President Emeritus. In August 2020, the Board of Trustees of APUS appointed him Trustee Emeritus. In November 2020, the Board of Trustees announced that the APUS School of Business would be renamed the Dr. Wallace E Boston School of Business in recognition of Dr. Boston's service to the university. Dr. Boston lives with his family in Austin, Texas.


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